I first want to say a Happy Memorial Day to all the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. God bless you all.
This particular race holds a special place with me because in 2006, it was the first race I attended live in nearly three years. At the same time, it is also my favorite NASCAR weekend of the entire year. I’m not talking about the race itself, I’m talking the entire weekend.
The level of patriotism at the Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Coca-Cola 600 is at the same level as what you would see on July 4, and now also on Sept. 11. The fans are colored in red, white and blue in every aspect. The coolers, the drinks, the plates, and all the American flags set up in the parking lots just show how proud the fans are to be in this country.
Sitting in the stands to just experience the pre-race show is a humbling experience as the nation’s armed forces put on a demonstration of combat. I remember just feeling the wind coming from the helicopter as soldiers repelled down to begin the showcase, and feeling honored just to be in their presence.
When opening ceremonies kick off, they aren’t the typical prayer and National Anthem. To honor the men and women who have sacrificed their lives to keep us free, the bagpipes are brought out to play “Amazing Grace” followed by a 21-gun salute.
Probably the most solemn part of the ceremony is hearing the trumpet player play “Taps.” When I went to this event in 2006 and 2007, I could see tears welling up in my father’s eyes, along with many other fans. It just goes to show that on a weekend where the fans come to see their heroes race on the track, they also remember the true-life heroes that are serving this country, along with the heroes that are no longer with us.
It was extremely appropriate that as the race wound down, it was a car bearing the name of one of the branches of the armed forces could possibly win the race.
The 600-mile marathon came down to a green-white-checkered finish, along with many drivers hoping there was enough Sunoco fuel in the tank to get to the finish. Kasey Kahne had the lead at lap 401, which was the restart. Suddenly his engine sputtered just past the start/finish line, giving the lead to the National Guard Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt Jr. The fans around the track suddenly realized that the streak of winless races may be over. It was 2008 when “Junior Nation” last got to savor a victory.
He took the white flag, and had a good lead on the competition, as the fans started going insane. Hope was alive, and the finish was in sight.
But the fuel had other ideas. Entering turn 3, the No. 88 began slowing…the fan favorite was out of gas, mere yards from the checkered flag. Junior saved all the gas he could, but didn’t save enough. In the end, it was Kevin Harvick in his Budweiser Chevrolet, carrying a special “Serving Those Who Serve” message that came out of turn 4 to take the win.
It capped off a day of racing that saw a first-time winner in the Grand Prix of Monaco in Formula 1, followed by a rookie coming one corner short of winning the Indianapolis 500 by hitting the wall, handing the win to a driver making his first full-time run in Indy Car.
The one weekend where the focus is on the United States Armed Forces, the racing provided drama, excitement, and sadness all around. That is exactly why this weekend is my favorite racing weekend of the entire year.
RESULTS: 1-Harvick 2-Ragan 3-Logano 4-Kurt Busch 5-Allmendinger 6-Ambrose 7-Earnhardt Jr. 8-Smith 9-Reutimann 10-Hamlin
NOTABLE FINISHES: 14-Kenseth 16-Edwards 17-Stewart 20-Gordon 22-Kahne 28-Johnson 32-Kyle Busch
CAUTIONS: 14 for 64 laps. Lap 76-79 (Debris-T1), 100-103 (#47 spin-T4), 172-175 (Debris-T2), 182-187 (Oil on Track), 189-193 (Debris-BS), 234-237 (#37 Stopped on Track), 241-244 (#27, 56, 83 accident-T2), 283-286 (Debris-T3), 290-292 (#4, 95 accident-T4), 296-301 (#09, 78 accident-FS), 303-310 (#5, 34, 39 accident-T3), 320-322 (#18 spin-FS), 344-348 (#18 accident-T2), 397-400 (Oil on Track).
LEAD CHANGES: 38 among 19 drivers. Keselowski 1-7, Edwards 8-45, Burton 46-47, Allmendinger 48-52, Edwards 53-75, Hamlin 76, Burton 77-80, Hamlin 81-100, Ragan 101-107, Kenseth 108-146, Hamlin 147, Kenseth 148-171, Hamlin 172, Ambrose 173-175, McMurray 176-180, Kenseth 181-193, Ambrose 194-198, Kenseth 199-223, Hamlin 224, Earnhardt Jr. 225, Biffle 226, Stewart 227-231, Kurt Busch 232-234, Ambrose 235-244, Kyle Busch 245-276, Kenseth 277-278, Kahne 279, Montoya 280, Gordon 281-283, Kyle Busch 284-306, Gordon 307-319, Kahne 320-344, Harvick 345, Mears 346, Gordon 347-349, Biffle 350-398, Kahne 399-400, Earnhardt Jr. 401, Harvick 402.
TIME OF RACE: 4 Hrs, 33 Mins, 14 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 132.414 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 0.703 Seconds
POINT STANDINGS (Top-12): 1. Edwards, 445 points; 2. Harvick, -36; 3. Johnson, -37; 4. Earnhardt Jr, -43; 5. Kyle Busch, -53; 6. Kurt Busch, -68; 7. Kenseth, -71; 8. Bowyer, -80; 9. Stewart, -89; 10. Newman, -92; 11. Biffle, -102; 12. Hamlin, -106.